Communication via Design recently coordinated and directed an executive roundtable event for a technology client. Although there are many ways to direct them, our ideal approach to running roundtables focuses on the fundamental needs of the attendees.

Our approach to facilitating roundtables

To begin the process, start with an up-to-date database of your specific target audience. If such a list doesn’t exist, buy or generate one. We reached out to approximately 300 professionals that fit our perfect customer profile. The goal was to get 10-15 people around the table. Invitations were sent through LinkedIn, email marketing and telemarketing. Yes, be prepared to cast a big net, with lots of follow up, to get a small number of participants.

Choose a venue that’s convenient for the core participants, and treat them well —a meal, parking, takeaways. People are giving their valuable time and insights, so make them feel special and give them a unique industry opportunity to network with their peers. It provides an incredibly high degree of value, as multiple minds share pertinent first-hand information.

Break the ice. Ask a specific question at the beginning to engage everyone in the conversation. It creates a comfortable and trusting environment right from the start.

Here are some quick tips on how to run a roundtable discussion from Harvard University I think are effective:

Qualities of effective roundtables

  • Time is managed carefully, with plenty of time for discussion
  • Each speaker communicates a clear message and solicits specific feedback
  • Moderator guides the discussion to touch on all speakers’ concerns

Qualities of less effective roundtables

  • Not enough time for discussion
  • Speakers aren’t clear about what feedback they want from the audience
  • Discussion focuses on one speaker and leaves others out

When you go into a roundtable, it’s not just about getting your questions answered. The point of a roundtable is to speak with moderators, who are often experts and consultants with broad knowledge, and listen to what other attendees have to share.

There’s also a solid chance that at least one person in the room has experienced the same problem you face, and has solved it. Perhaps some have found different solutions to your problem, which may be more or less appropriate for you.

An additional highlight of moderating and attending roundtables is that you receive unexpected valuable information. You will likely hear about problems that you haven’t faced yet, but will in the future. Although you may not be aware of the issue yet, hearing solutions from other professionals will help you plan accordingly.

When we direct a roundtable, we try to facilitate answers from the audience. We throw in any missing advice or bust myths when necessary, and steer the conversation away from any third-party accounts that may lose the veracity of the problem and solution, as something may be lost in translation.

Ultimately, what’s important to remember is that during a roundtable, everyone in attendance will get some level of consultation as they learn from both the moderators and the participants. It’s designed to be a win-win!